§ Mr. Hume
To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which companies have submitted bids for the purchase of the old Belfast Gas network; what plans they 109W have submitted for developing the Belfast network; which was the highest bid; and what was the Department of Economic Development's response. 
§ Mr. Ancram
Bids were submitted by Northern Ireland Electricity and Premier Energy Suppliers Ltd. NIE made the higher bid, but both bids were heavily qualified. Both companies submitted plans for developing the Belfast network. The plan submitted by Premier Energy Suppliers Ltd. was considered to meet most closely the Government's objectives of the most rapid and extensive as possible development of a downstream gas industry.
The Department is currently engaged in negotiations with Premier Energy Suppliers Ltd. on licence terms for the development of a natural gas industry in an area which includes Belfast. The availability of the former network is essential to this development and its purchase is an integral part of the negotiations.